Into the Foolishness of God

The power of coming into agreement with God's Word and will

mjaxmi1hmzm5zgi1ywiyn2rkzjvm

There’s a fantastic article today over at The Gospel Coalition discussing the ins and outs of standing up for Truth (with a capital T) in a way that is effective and not destructive.  “How to Defend the Gospel from Its Enemies – and Friends” gives us some good pointers on navigating our way through a culture full of lies and half-truths while keeping our wits and dignity about us.

 

Here’s the crux of the problem: We don’t want to be Christian wallflowers who sit in the corner while the world burns, wringing our hands and waiting for Jesus to return. We’ve been “entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thess.2:4) to go out and proclaim the good news. Proclaiming, however, doesn’t mean carelessly flinging out every opinion and engaging in every argument. Wars are waged over the inter webs nowadays, battles are fought, won and lost over strokes on a keyboard. The careless pot-stirrer must learn to “correct with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24) or run the risk of becoming totally irrelevant.

I think we’ve all been on both sides at some point. We take a back seat on certain issues because they either don’t affect us directly or because they seem too big an obstacle to overcome. Other times, something hits our hot button and it’s off to the races:

Just off the top of my head:

-A ‘Christian’ author goes to nauseatingly great lengths to contort and twist scripture to make it more palatable for a new generation, denying the Word says what it says and sugar-coating it to the great approval of thousands. (HOT BUTTON)

-Crazed women running around by the thousands screaming about rights and dignity while preaching how great abortion is. (HOT BUTTON)

-Loud chip crunching by your husband late at night (HOT BUTTON, but for another time…)

I digress. On any given day, just pick your outrage, for there’s plenty to be outraged about. The difference between “us” and “them” however, needs to be noticeable. For the sake of leading others to the truth and for the sake of preserving our own sanity… we must know how to engage (and disengage) Biblically.

The first point in the article is one I love and never even considered:

It’s a privilege to even have this problem to wrestle with.

It doesn’t feel like a privilege when your kid comes home and asks “why was there a man dressed as a woman in the bathroom at the bowling alley?” (True story… time to engage.)

It doesn’t feel warm and fuzzy when you hear what crude words and topics are floating around the elementary school playground and have to bump up your imagined parental speech schedule by a few years.  (Time to engage.)

It can seem like you’re always walking uphill, the wind in your face, fighting and wearing down with every step. I have no good tidings to bring on this subject – it’s not going to get easier or better. Until Jesus comes back, culture and the world are heading toward decay and disorder. But take heart:

“God has surely smiled on us, placing into our hands the stewardship of his truth here in this day when the world denies the validity of any truth. May we be fully pleasing to the Lord in how we handle our sacred trust in such a time as this!” Ray Ortlund

So when we feel like we’ve stepped through the looking glass into an upside-down world, may we be encouraged that we’ve been entrusted with such a task from a God who equips and provides all the tools we need to navigate our way through it. It’s good to stir things up, a settled pot burns at the bottom, so keep stirring kids.

There is of course another side to that, and the closing point the author makes is a good one:

Ugliness Can’t Defend Beauty

Sometimes, we just need to let it go. Drop the chalupa, back away from the keyboard, the meeting, the person, whatever. Paul warns us to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels” (2 Timothy 22-23). The ones who stand against us often have no desire to hear, only to be heard. We need to discern the difference. As much as that nutty women’s march agitated me, I’d never desire to go mono e mono with a woman dressed as a giant you-know-what who can only shout obscenities. No thanks. The same should apply to our everyday encounters. Is it worth it? Am I glorifying God or my ego? Ugliness can’t defend beauty. Being a warrior for Christ-less Christianity won’t move any hearts, it will only harden them.

We are warriors, but not the self-serving kind. That junk belongs to the world. Believe it or not, God doesn’t actually rely on our persuasive talents, but He does desire we be good stewards of His Word. Period. No talent or bravery needed. Only a pure desire to share His good news in a graceful and truthful manner. There are crazy talented authors out there, but it’s a challenge to find one with a solid grasp on the truth. Why? Because they can rely on their big, talented, witty selves. There’s no room for Bible truth when your goal is self-promotion. You have too many people to please.

So how about we position ourselves somewhere between the wallflower and the pot-stirrer? How about letting Jesus work HIS truth the way HE wants right up through our very souls so that it pops out of our mouths (or keyboards) just the way He would want? Not too harsh. Not wishy-washy. Just right. I’ll close with the great Charles Spurgeon, who says it more eloquently than I ever could:

“The Word of God can take care of itself, and will do so if we preach it, and cease defending it. See you that lion. They have caged him for his preservation; shut him up behind iron bars to secure him from his foes! See how a band of armed men have gathered together to protect the lion. What a clatter they make with their swords and spears! These mighty men are intent upon defending a lion. O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door! Let the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? What does he want with your guardian care? Let the pure gospel go forth in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries.”

images

I always joke that I would have been better off living in the past when things weren’t as hectic and complicated. When I’m at home, I watch The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie almost religiously. I find the simplicity of it all incredibly relaxing. My husband laughs at me and reminds me Laura Ingalls was probably freezing and hungry a good deal of the time. Sigh.

There’s an episode of The Waltons where the family has a telephone installed in the home and it rings during dinner time almost throwing poor grandma Walton into convulsions. The very idea of such an intrusive distraction is just too much for her to bear.

I wonder what these people would think if they could return to 2017 and see the way we live. Phones in our pockets, twelve different social media platforms, televisions at gas stations blaring the latest news. Our days are a whirlwind of craziness, we are always searching and rarely finding anything worthy of our attention. The hours are filled with fillers… scrolling, sending, receiving and checking for the next thing. Information overload.

When my boys were babies I remember them not being able to handle too much stimulation. If a room was too loud for too long, they simply shut down and went into a deep sleep. I sometimes feel that way at the end of the day if I’ve spent too much time feasting on the world’s junk. Exhausted. Spent. Checked out.

‘The struggle is real’ as they say… we are created to search, but we’re also created to find fulfillment in the right places. Christians these days are fantastic at seeking, but I wonder how are we at genuinely settling down and receiving? Are we even capable of quiet anymore? We are wired to take in eighty bits of useless information in a minute, but can we sit down with Jesus for an hour and take in maybe one big, fantastic truth from Him? Something like:  You are loved. I am for you. Settle down. Hold fast. Confess. Worship. Simplify.

Most of us are in such a whirlwind most of the time that it’s difficult to even discern what is happening to us.

“The seeker after God’s best things is eager to hear anyone who offers a way by which he can obtain them. He longs for some new experience, some elevated view of truth, some operation of the Spirit that will raise him above the dead level of religious mediocrity he sees all around him, and for this reason he is ready to give a sympathetic ear to the new and the wonderful in religion, particularly if it is presented by someone with an attractive personality and a reputation for superior godliness.” AW Tozer

Here is a man ahead of his time, showing us that mindlessly seeking after every new thing isn’t unique to our century. It’s true, we see mediocrity around us and we want to rise above it. We desire better things. We inherently know there’s room to grow. There’s absolutely  nothing wrong with that, we are created to live abundant, fruitful lives.

But to what end? To get ahead of our neighbor? To promote ourselves? Or to glorify God?

We’ve deceived ourselves into thinking the answer we’ve been looking for lies just beyond, in that new bestseller, that ’40 days to (fill in the blank). Every month there’s another idea presented in shiny packaging by a shiny writer and we think, ‘Ok! I’m on board! I’ll read, I’ll journal, I’ll draw prayer circles around my children, whatever it takes!’

And then… fizzle, poof.  It’s on the shelf of our good intentions collecting dust.

If something isn’t pointing us toward Jesus and away from self, it’s probably not going to stick. Self is a dead-end road. Jesus, however, is the fountain of living water that never runs out. God desires that we love Him for Himself, that we “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

The spirit of this age loves to complicate what is simple, to corrupt that which is pure. Too many cooks in the kitchen of Christian thought and you end up dangerously close to burning the whole thing down.

I truly believe one of the most dangerous habits of our day is over-complicating the ways and truths of God. Some of us have a great talent for it. We are professional seekers who never find a single thing worth holding onto. Seeking is important, but we are meant to find something at the end of the search.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart…” (Jeremiah 29:13)

Too much clutter, too many opinions, and information overload dull our senses. We can’t see clearly through the lens of the world, and there is an enemy who wants nothing more than to keep things out of focus for us.

“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:3

It’s no Walton’s Mountain up in here, but it is possible to disengage awhile from all the distractions that keep us always seeking and never finding. Put all the well-meaning clutter on hold for just a day and open up God’s Word. Soak it in and see what comes of it.

Too many cooks will indeed spoil the broth. Let some of them out of the kitchen for a bit and see how things turn out.

 

 

fullsizerender

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.

Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8: 9-12

So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.”

The children of Israel were making their way back to the land of the living. Their exile is behind them, and it was time to rebuild and rededicate their city and their hearts to God. The great wall of the city of Jerusalem had just been completed and now the focus shifts to the people of God’s holy city. This was the Feast of the Tabernacles, a time for great joy and celebration, and Ezra was leading the march by holding a big ol’ Bible conference if you will, a revival of sorts. He fashioned a platform in the city square for the Word and the Law to be read for hours a day. When the people heard it, they stood up (v.5). They sought desperately to understand it (v.2-3) and they rejoiced greatly when their hearts received the truth (v. 12).

Sometimes though, when we hear these words of the law, it isn’t all smiles and praise hands is it? Verse 9 says that all the people wept when they heard God’s law being read to them.

The words are too hard. Obedience to them is impossible. It’s oppressive. It’s narrow.

There are many who feel this way about God’s Word. We don’t know where to begin. It seems entirely too narrow and too heavy… who needs more lists and formulas to deal with? Not the Israelites. These people are coming off years and years of captivity and learning lessons the hard way.

Enter Ezra. Enter Nehemiah. Enter the Levites. Enter the people who “gave the sense and helped them understand the reading…” (v. 8)

See, once we understand that the word and the law is given for our freedom and our protection, things turn quickly from weeping to rejoicing.

What did these teachers and leaders say to them?

Go your way.

Eat the fat.

Drink the sweet.

Help those in need.

In one verse, joy is restored. It is restored because the people finally understood and took to heart what was required of them, and it wasn’t oppressive or painful. When we “go our way” we find out our place and our purpose. Notice it doesn’t say “go your OWN way”like the Fleetwood Mac song, it says that we go our way. A way set apart for us, a path that is ours to take, set before us by God who loves us and has a perfect will for us. We are able to enjoy life, pour out to others and be filled by God.

The joy is restored all because the people finally understood the words that were declared to them.

There’s a lot of talk about walls these days. Building them up. Tearing them down. There’s so very much mourning and weeping and complaining. People running in circles flailing about yelling that the sky is falling… if not literally, most definitely spiritually and emotionally. The Israelites were mocked endlessly for the wall they built. They were intimidated and threatened. They worked anyway.

We all have our work to do, but it cannot be accomplished if we sit around mourning, weeping and complaining.

If only we understood the words that have been declared over us. Words of life and not death. Words of encouragement and not defeat. Words of promise and not doom.

We don’t have an Ezra or a Nehemiah or Levite priests, we have something far better. The Holy Spirit guiding and leading us into all truth (John 16:13).

Take time to investigate all that truth.  Soak it in. Make it personal, because it most certainly is meant for each of us in the deepest part of our hearts.

Rejoice greatly in it, just as the Israelites did. There is a sweetness to everyday life that comes when we do. Give His Words a chance to be the very joy and strength that changes your mourning into rejoicing.

truth-in-love

Image Credit: Patheos.com

 “Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.” Timothy Keller

Accepting that ‘radical truthfulness’ about who we are can be brutal. We have a difficult enough time being honest with ourselves regarding our hopeless state, and hearing it  from an outside place like church can be downright intolerable for some. Our culture (and parts of mainstream Christianity) have run full speed ahead with the notion that we all relatively fine. Our sin-nature has been whitewashed and watered-down to include nothing more than little faults we can fix ourselves with a good self-help book. Lowest common denominator kind of preaching my get people saved, but where is the righteousness, peace or joy we as believers are supposed to have? (Romans 14:17) We are a people “ever learning, but never able to come to any knowledge of the (real) truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7). Once we leave the safety of the revealed truth provided for us by God in His Word, every step we take becomes shakier and more unbalanced.

Truth is hard. It makes us uncomfortable and exposed. It requires something of us. A few weeks ago while browsing my local Christian bookstore I noticed a new section, an entire wall really, that was dedicated to just one type of book: the adult coloring book. Dozens of them. Markers and paints sold separately, of course. You can while away the hours coloring intricate Biblical scenes, verses, mostly just designs with a verse printed on the sheet. Part of me gets it, I really do, it’s a craft and people need to put down the iPhones and check out once in awhile. If coloring does it for you, fantastic. I cringed though, at the scope of this whole thing – so much so that I snapped a picture and texed it to a friend with the caption “does this seem weird to you?!” with a laughing emoji.

img_9250

So again, I’m not making fun of it, I’m just feeling like there are some red flags going up in how we are becoming less and less interested in God’s word, which leads to a really anemic kind of faith and a lukewarm, indifferent attitude towards the truth. Unbelievably, this new section is where the ‘classics’ used to be shelved… the irony isn’ lost on me. They’ve been moved to the back of the store now, I weep a little inside thinking about it.

So we have a ton of “love” (or feel good stuff) with about an ounce of God’s truth. This is why we have Christian (I use this term loosely) writers endorsing gay marriage, coming out themselves as gay, mixing the Bible with the teachings of Buddha, and on and on. It’s a self-serving age and a self-serving spirituality.

For those of us still holding on to our actual Bibles, this presents a problem. The vast majority of us I would assume, don’t hate people just because they struggle or have wandered, quite the contrary. Our hearts as true disciples of Jesus should be 100% FOR people. We have sadly become really comfortable with being comfortable. We snack on sugar all day when we need to be eating our vegetables. We try and fuel ourselves on pretty, filtered Instagram memes when we need the Jesus of the Bible.

David and Jason Benham have written a fantastic article entitled “Understanding the Balance of Truth and Mercy” and have a great analogy on the love/truth conundrum:

“Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “It’s not enough to help hurting people; you must also stop the things that hurt them.” In the Bible, we call this the balance of truth and mercy. God commands that His followers show mercy by helping hurting people, yet He also requires they expose the things that hurt them so they can be led to the truth.

This requires supernatural balance, because there are ditches on both sides of the road if you err to the extreme of either side.

To be all merciful and yet refuse to speak the truth is like building a hospital at the bottom of a cliff without also installing a guardrail at the top. Sure, you’d help plenty of hurting people, but you would stop no one from falling off.

To be all truthful and yet lack mercy would be like installing a guardrail without also building the hospital. You would definitely prevent a lot people from hurting themselves, but you’d have no way to help those who fall.”

I simply love this picture they paint. We need both guardrail and hospital. Help those who have fallen, be ready in season and out to speak God’s healing truth (2 Timothy 4:2), but also have some safety measures in place that keep them from going over the cliff in the first place.

They are correct in saying the balance is supernatural – avoid the ditches by experiencing God’s amazing grace and uncompromising truth for yourself… they go beautifully together and were never meant to work alone.

So take time to color, have some candy now and then, it’s ok. Take even more time to know and speak the Word, it’s the only way we are able discern that candy from poison.

 

 

images

“We want flawed. We want imperfect. We want real. And this kind of corduroy rather than polyester faith is a growing and refreshing influence in the world today.” Josh Riebeck, Fighting for Authenticity
If there is one prevailing topic I read about over and over recently, it is that of living “authentically”. It is the badge of honor of an up and coming generation to shake the dust off of the conventional traditions they grew up with for newer “more authentic” experiences. The churches of their parents and grandparents have been a little too polished, the doctrine too narrowly defined, and their leaders too phony. Authenticity is at the top of the list for many church goers and seekers. The bar is high for relationships and personal experiences. People desire community and fellowship, both of which mean nothing if people are not able to be their true selves.

Enter a whole new kind of thinking in our little life circles: being authentic means showcasing our jagged edges and messes, so much so that brokenness is in fact paraded around as a kind of medal of honor. It’s a mantra so often repeated in the books we read and messages we hear I can’t help but wonder if we have gone off the path just a bit. Here’s just a taste of some recent book titles:

Messy: God Likes It That Way;  Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life; Life is Messy, Embrace the Mud;  Dirty, Rotten, Messy Christians;  

Ann Voskamp’s latest book The Broken Way asks “what if brokenness is the path to abundant life?” 

Jen Hatmaker went viral after she wrote a hilarious piece on why she was the worst end of year school mom ever, and mothers all raised their praise hands and chuckled in agreement.

To read something humorously and passionately written about the battles we all face is encouraging, it resonates and makes us feel like we aren’t alone. Life is indeed messy. We are broken people.

Look closely though, at what these messages are telling us: your authenticity is defined by your brokenness. In order to be relevant, you need to have a ‘hot mess’ thing happening somewhere or else you just aren’t relatable.

After awhile, brokenness is not only normalized, it’s embraced. Whether it’s in holy or humorous ways, we read the stories that end with “bless this mess, Lord” and breathe a collective sigh in knowing we aren’t alone in our shortcomings.

To be clear, brokenness is not having a sink full of dirty dishes, piles of laundry or unsigned reading logs. True brokenness is sin separating us from a loving God who offers healing and redemption. Grace, in much of the same way doesn’t just come to fill in the gaps where we fall short or have decided to loosen up our convictions. If we cheapen the meaning of these things, it all becomes dangerously relative. If everything is broken, nothing really is. We don’t see sin for the danger it is, we make light of it. Or ignore it entirely.

“If we are constantly looking for someone else who is broken in all the same places, we overlook the comfort we can have in the perfect God-man. Grace covers. And it covers again and again. Thanks be to God. But if we stop there, we are only telling half of the story… Receiving grace for my failures also includes Christ’s help to turn from sin and embrace new obedience.” Megan Hill

What if… what if the most authentic, real, and relevant thing we can do as believers is to actually pursue wholeness instead of wallowing in the muck of our sin and mess just waiting for Jesus to return? What if we viewed ourselves as new creations who are called to live a life of abundance and not brokenness? (2 Corinthians 5:17, John 10:10)

This isn’t pie in the sky wishful thinking that discounts the effects sin and a broken world have on our lives. This isn’t ignoring genuine tragedies that at times leave us busted-up, messed-up, hollowed-out people. Jesus knows. That’s the whole point. We have a Savior who completely feels the depths of our every sorrow (Hebrews 4:15, Isaiah 53:3). The fantastic news is that He came and redeemed us from having to dwell in that brokenness and sorrow. And that’s where I see the disconnect. We are promoting brokenness over wholeness. Darkness over light. Struggle over victory. We understand there’s no foolproof method to glue all the pieces back together, so we abandon the process entirely and embrace things we were never intended to hold on to.

If I believe brokenness is my permanent condition, how do I view sin and grace? Do I ease up on Biblical doctrine because it’s too harsh for today’s culture to embrace? Do I receive grace for my sin and keep on sinning? C.S. Lewis has a warning for us on this:

“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. You find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.” Mere Christianity

See where this leads? If we only take our spiritual cues from people who struggle with the same sin as we do, we all remain stuck. It’s like being shipwrecked on a desert island and wanting to stay with fellow passengers instead of searching out a boat with a competent captain.  There are too many prominent Christians giving in and lying down because they mistakenly believe that’s what will save everyone. In the end, we all starve to death. Our role as believers isn’t to wallow in brokenness together. The Bible tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15) because that is the rhythm of life in a fallen world. In the in-between times, are we called to “encourage one another and build each other up” (I Thessalonians 5:11), and to “pursue holiness” (Hebrews 12:14). Walk it out, work through it, process it… with Jesus, with fellow believers and friends, whatever it takes because Christian, you are no longer a slave, but God’s child (Galatians 4:7). God’s children do not sit and bask in brokenness.

Desiring wholeness (not perfection) is fantastically, amazingly and entirely AUTHENTIC. God loves and honors the broken spirit, He acknowledges it and would never despise or turn His back on our condition (Psalm 51:17). Nobody wants a phony polyester kind of faith, and God Himself does not desire that for His children. He calls us UP and OUT of the dust, the mess, the sin and INTO a beautiful life. We don’t have to muddle through, we can indeed be restored. God uses the broken things, sometimes extremely powerfully to make us who we are. Lets not, however, fall into the trap of believing that this is the only true path to anything good or authentic.

charlie1

A ‘reboot’ of a post I wrote a few years back… I just love Linus. 

I absolutely adore watching ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ on TV each year. We have the DVD of course, but there’s just something about watching it in real time with commercials and all that really gets to me. I force, I mean ‘gather’ my boys to the TV with Christmas snacks and hot chocolate – they enjoy it, but I wonder for how long. I ask them if they’ll still watch this with me when they are teenagers, they promise they will.
It’s refreshing to see that after years of editing out the ‘overtly religious’ parts of the show, the network is now showing it (gasp!) in it’s original, unedited format.
My kids laugh their way through the same parts every year, my husband (though he may not admit it) sits down on the couch and joins us. I look on Twitter and see that “Charlie Brown Christmas” is trending – a modern day stamp of approval from viewing audiences everywhere. I’m happy that there appear to be people in the world who still care to hear the true story of Christmas, albeit in the form of a cartoon. I sense a collective silence in living rooms across the country as Linus walks up onto the stage to quote the Good Book and explain the true meaning of Christmas to his friends.
He explains it from the point of the shepherds who were watching over their flocks. He, of course, is a shepherd in the play along with his friend Shermy. The two boys have a very different take, however, on their assigned roles.
Poor Shermy, I think he only speaks one line in the whole show, but you have to feel for the guy:
“Every Christmas it’s the same: I always end up playing a shepherd.”

It’s understandable. The shepherd isn’t a very exciting role. Probably not a lot of action. There’s a director, musicians, animals and even, as Lucy points out, ‘a Christmas Queen.’ Being the quiet shepherd isn’t very exciting.
Linus, on the other hand, seems to embrace his lowly shepherd role. With his security blanket in hand, he steps up and answers Charlie Brown’s question with humbling truth:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ (Did you read that in his sweet little voice?)

My eyes tear up. Every. Year.
It’s so easy to see our role as small and insignificant. It’s tempting to look around at the cast of characters in our real lives and feel like Shermy did. Everyone else has some glitz and glamor, and we find ourselves in a plain, boring role. Maybe it’s a job. Maybe it’s staying at home taking care of kids. Maybe it’s just feeling small.
As we hear the Christmas story again this year, lets remember something really important: God chose the shepherds! The biggest, most life-altering news the world has ever seen was announced first to a bunch of nobodies out in a field! God could have done it a million other ways, but he chose shepherds. Why??
Could it be that He wants to remind us that the role we play is an important one, even when we are sighing, “Not again God, please don’t make me a shepherd again! I want to be the Christmas Queen!” 
Could it be that He wants to honor the humble and lowly of this world with a role far greater than we could ever imagine? Linus was a humble guy, he accepted his role and stepped into the spotlight when he was called upon, and he did it for God’s glory.
Someone will always have a bigger role. Wishing we were in a different role only makes us feel small and we run the risk of missing our calling. Christmas Queens are great, but shepherds remind us that God loves the outcast and the lonely just as much.
At times, we are all the lowly shepherd kid with no lines in the play. We feel like filler in the background. I think we should think twice before we complain about that – God has a habit of searching out the lowly shepherds and revealing His most trusted secrets to them.

 

charlie-brown-christmas-tree-300x189

I hadn’t heard of a Hatchimal until recently. The quirky little animal inside of an egg toy that apparently is all the rage this holiday season. They are of course, out of stock at the average store and causing families to lose their collective minds. Parents are writing fake I.O.U. letters from Santa to their children explaining the tragic situation.

My first reaction (hopefully the reaction of all rational/sane people), is to laugh at the absurdity of all this. I shudder at the silliness of our culture, running after the latest goodies that we all know by Valentines day will be discarded in someones closet, under a pile of other objects they just HAD TO HAVE.

It’s easy to poke fun at it, until I remember my ten year old self at Christmastime, ready to sell all my worldly goods to anyone who could procure me the Cabbage Patch doll with the cornsilk hair. Then there was the pink and purple ten-speed. Also the anatomically correct baby doll whose skin smelled like baby powder and came with it’s own push-buggy.

As a child, I remember so well that longing. As parents we try and fulfill those desires in our children’s hearts because there’s a part of us that remembers how it feels to be so genuinely excited about something.

We all have our ‘Hatchimals’.

I walked through someones home yesterday that was the very picture and definition of a Christmas wonderland. The decorations were professional-level gorgeous. Nothing was out of place. The entire home looked like a perfect magazine spread of holiday cheer.

Where was this woman’s laundry? Do people actually get laundry done and put away? I can’t currently see the floor of my laundry room.

How did the whole place smell like freshly baked cookies? No matter how many Febreeze evergreen candles I light, the house usually just smells like dog.

December is kind of a double-edged sword in our culture; we are surrounded by perfection and beauty but never quite able to keep up on it all. Ask anyone who has ever walked by the Pottery Barn window at the mall. Or gazed at the Williams-Sonoma demo Christmas table. Yikes.

If we are culture-driven, our desires are never fulfilled, our expectations are never met. Someone will always do it better. Someone will always have a prettier looking tree, fancier table setting or better smelling house.

Advent is a season of longing, but we have been conditioned to never feel such things. We scratch the itch. Longing makes us uncomfortable. Imperfection makes us squirm. We forget our gift is has already come and promises to come again. Part of the beauty of December for believers is that we don’t have to jump at every trend and spend every last dime in order to be fulfilled. We are created to feel this desire. Nothing in the world will ever fulfill it save for Jesus.

We celebrate a Father who knows how to give good and perfect gifts to His children. Lasting gifts of eternity. How much then should we desire to share that with our own children and friends?  Teach the kids it’s ok to want and desire things, but put those things in perspective.  Show them how to long after Jesus and actually be fulfilled.

“Ultimately, there is something profoundly Christmas-like about not having everything the way you want. The entire holiday exists because two parents could not even find a roof under which to have a baby. Consider the absurdity of the fact that, thousands of years later, people are celebrating that holiday by apologizing to children because a Hatchimal could not be procured.” Ashley E. McGuire, Acculturated Magazine


Every year we gather some “foodie” friends for what has become a beloved tradition: Mock Thanksgiving. It’s like a dry run for a Thanksgiving that we’d never actually serve to our families, an excuse to experiment with a menu that, for most of us, is set in stone for the actual day.
Mock Thanksgiving is a meal my mother would not approve, one in which creativity trumps tradition. The standard turkey gives way to an herb-roasted bird stuffed with onions and lemons. Ordinary mashed potatoes are usurped by garlic smashed new potatoes. In place of green beans almandine, oven-roasted Brussels sprouts with cranberries and goat cheese. And the ultimate desecration (by my mother’s East Coast reckoning): in place of bread stuffing, cornbread chorizo dressing that’s never seen the inside of a bird. We dine al fresco on these foods offered to the idols of our culinary creativity, savoring every minute of this forbidden meal, this work of holiday fiction.
As much as I love Mock Thanksgiving, I have to admit that I, too, want Thanksgiving Day to follow its time-honored script. I associate certain dishes with that day and that day alone. They may not win awards for culinary achievement, but that’s hardly the point—they taste like a homecoming. They are a remembrance of Thanksgivings past, an assembly of recipes faithfully prepared just as some dear relative made them for decades. On this day of remembrance, the very food itself is a remembrance of those who have shaped who we are.
The Bible is full of meals of remembrance, of sacred repetitions, of significant repasts. The idea permeates the Passover meal instituted to remind God’s people of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Roast lamb, bitter herbs, unleavened bread—reminders to thankfulness and watchfulness and freedom. It permeates the Lord’s Supper—wine and broken bread—a gathering of the family of believers in which the food itself is a remembrance of him who has shaped who we are. Reminders to thankfulness and watchfulness and freedom.
Joy and Dread
On some level, every gathering of family around a table is a shadow of this idea of remembrance, a time when we recall our collective history, making days like Thanksgiving ones we anticipate with a mix of joy and dread, depending on who will pull up a chair to the feast. Why? Because our collective history is often dotted with land mines—difficult personalities, past hurts, broken relationships. For many of us, our Thanksgiving table will be populated by more than just our current incarnations. We will dine with a host of our past selves, clinging to the hope that familiar recipes will preserve the ties of family until the pie has been served and the door has closed behind the last guest.
Which is why days like Thanksgiving are not merely calls to remembrance but also calls to forgetfulness—no, not the forgetfulness of lost car keys or misplaced TV remotes, but the intentional forgetting of what has gone before, the setting aside of past offenses, the laying down of our claims to restitution for old wounds. We are called to a forgetful forgiveness of others—the kind our heavenly Father practices toward us—in which we decide not to remember. Though the record of our hurts may never fade from our consciousness, we consciously set it aside. It’s a deliberate forgetfulness of the offenses of others and a studied forgetfulness of the sins of our own past—a refusal to let them continue to dictate the course of our decisions and reactions.
This is hard for us. We tend to remember what should be forgotten and forget what should be remembered. We tend to make sacred repetition of the ways we have been harmed, of the ways we have harmed others. Unbelievably, we choose to dine on food sacrificed to the idols of our hurts and failures rather than on the bread of redemption and the wine of forgiveness. Mock Thanksgiving. And yet, every table where family gathers is an invitation to dine on the forgetful remembrance that has been shown to us in Christ, a chance to embrace and to demonstrate the ministry of remembering what matters and forgetting what does not.
Flavors of Homecoming
So if your Thanksgiving table threatens not to mirror Rockwellian bliss, consider this recipe of forgetful remembrance as part of your annual gathering:
Remember your Egypt. Remember your bondage to sin. Remember your path to freedom. Remember the deeds of the Lord, ponder his works, meditate on his mighty deeds. Like your heavenly Father, remember mercy and set aside wrath. Not all at your table have tasted freedom.
Forget your Egypt. Forget the sins you loved more than your freedom. Forget the offenses of others against you. Forget to be angry, defensive, hurt, crippled by that which has come before. Forget as your sins have been forgotten. Not all at your table are capable of asking for mercy. Ladle it with liberality anyway.
What gratitude would flow from this exercise? What thanksgiving? For those who have dined on the sacred, the Thanksgiving table becomes a feast of forgetful remembrance. For forgetful remembrance is grace—the taste of a homecoming remembered, the foretaste of a homecoming yet to come. On Thanksgiving years from now when our grandchildren gather to serve this most familiar of meals, may the table still be laid with the flavors of homecoming—may we still be serving the very grace that was served for us, in which all true thankfulness finds its source. 

z41-1bseirenes

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” Genesis 3:6

Eve didn’t take and eat of the forbidden fruit with the intent to do harm to herself. Knowing she was made in the image of God, she took and ate convinced it would make her enlightened and better off. Her intentions were not to doom all mankind, she simply judged what God said to be of less value than her current feelings on the subject. So she ate.

Being the sons and daughters of Eve, as well as heirs of Christ, we carry with us both curse and blessing: the ability to stand firm or to fall as we choose. Our obedience to God weakens the enemy while our disobedience emboldens him and enables his schemes.

Eve was convinced there was some justification to her sin. She thought somehow God couldn’t have meant exactly what He said, there had to be a better way.

Therein lies the hook. We convince ourselves our intentions are good and we make our sin into a noble act. We push God out, convinced we’ve got everything handled. With each selfish little choice, the soil of our heart hardens just a little more, and hard soil is only good for growing weeds.

In 1 Samuel 15 we see how Saul learned this lesson the hard way when he chose to keep some of the plunder from the Amalekites instead of destroying everything as God commanded. When Samuel confronted him about it, Saul swore that her really did obey and do what God commanded, that he was simply saving some of the animals to be a sacrifice for God (v15). However, that wasn’t what he was told to do. He was told to wipe everything out.

Knowing this, Samuel says to Saul, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears which I hear?” 

Saul replies to him, still confident that he hasn’t done anything wrong, “the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to the Lord and the rest we have utterly destroyed (v 15).”

You can sense Samuel starting to lose it:

“Be quiet! Did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? Now the Lord sent you on a mission, and said ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are utterly consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord? (v16-19)

And STILL Saul thinks all is well: “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people told of the plunder, the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God…” (v 20-21).

He’s justifying his actions, telling Samuel all the things he DID do, minimizing the command he chose to IGNORE completely. Which, by the way, ends up costing him his kingship, because REBELLION and STUBBORNNESS and REJECTING Gods edicts are things that are not going to work to anyone’s benefit. (Sorry for yelling…)

Samuel reminds Saul that “to obey is better than to sacrifice” (v 22-23).

This isn’t something new to us in our day, but we have excelled at taking it to another level it seems. This false gospel of self-importance and plaguing doubt about revealed truth (I used to say ‘nagging’ but I’m taking it up a notch) is growing like a giant weed in hard soil.

The past few weeks have seen not just a steady creep, but what feels like a full-on assault on specific areas of the church, namely women’s spheres. It’s not specific to certain leaders, but certain leaders have propelled it to the forefront and it deserves attention.

Jen Oshman, a missionary mom and writer addressed it perfectly earlier this week and I’d like to share some of what she said, the link to her entire piece, “A Trojan Horse in Women’s Ministry, Confronting a False Gospel Message” can be found here.

(This post specifically addresses the Belong Tour and the latest issues surrounding Jen Hatmaker, who along with her pastor husband, has given the thumbs up to same-sex unions, and Glennon Melton who is making guest appearances on the tour and recently came out as being in a same-sex relationship after the recent success of her Oprah-endorsed book Love Warrior.) She says:

“The message is one of SELF. It says we women are enough in and of ourselves, we define our purpose, we conjure up our own energy to realize our own goals. We don’t need anything or anyone – we command our destiny. 

In stark contrast, the message of the Scripture is that, because of our sin we are desperately in need of God’s mercy, grace, and resurrection power. Apart from Jesus we are dead. (Ephesians 2:1) 

The message of these women is a siren song. Who doesn’t want to believe that they are all they need? Who doesn’t want to live for  and worship themselves? Their authentic, winsome style is leading women into idolatry and the women don’t even know that it’s a twisting of the truth. 

And church, that is on us. These authors are merely exhaling the cultural air that we are breathing – the supremacy of self, the idol of autonomy. But the fact that women in churches are inhaling it deeply and without reservation is an indictment of the lack of discipleship within our very walls.”

In Greek mythology, the music of the beautiful Siren was so seductive, it lured many sailors off their charted course to their deaths. Deceptively alluring words full of good intentions are going to lead many to a rocky shipwreck because these waters are dangerously shallow. If you follow any of these women, you’ve seen the steady progression. It’s an incredibly dishonest way to sell your message. But Oshman is correct in saying that there is a bigger issue, these women are just two examples of what happens when we as a church become either ashamed of or confused about the true Gospel and desire to please ourselves more than God.

Friends, we are those sailors, navigating on a foggy sea, hearing the distant call of a beautiful voice. Listening to her means changing course.

We are Eve on the verge of that first bite, wondering “did God really mean what He said?” Listening to that serpent means eating deadly fruit.

We are Saul, returning from battle victorious deciding our way is more sacrificial, more intentional, more loving. Listening to the people who just want you to set some animals aside means losing your position. 

We’ve lost our taste for boundaries and standards because they are hurting people who are comfortable in their sin, and we don’t want to hurt people. Surely there must be a less-offensive way.

We change the air by loving people Jesus’ way. If someone is hurting, love them enough to give them Jesus in His entirety. Don’t hold back the parts that may sting, let Him heal the wounds. He loves far better than we ever will.

Decide to follow Jesus even when it rubs up against those tender spots where sin is held close, that’s bravery. Following the tide of culture and feelings is not. Placing our beloved desires and selfish ways at the foot of the cross is hard, but it is freeing.

Don’t heed the siren songs, don’t embrace the serpent and don’t listen to the world Know the voice of the Shepherd and acquaint yourself with Him, His truth will always be able to stand on it’s own.

 

img_8630

It’s been a week since the election, and we are still here! Praise indeed.

It’s been a draining week, an emotional week, and I for one have never felt such an acute ache for God’s presence to just come and soak through every fiber of my being as I did these past seven days.

We said we’d feel better once this was over, but I’d venture to say that most of us just felt a kind of ‘shift’ from one unknown to another. The anxiety of not knowing the outcome has simply been replaced with a new kind of restlessness now that we have our end result.

So what now? Half the country nervously awaits, biting their fingernails and hoping the guy they voted for doesn’t completely blow it and prove them to be incredibly foolish in their choice of candidate. The other half are shaking their heads, woefully disappointed at best, completely unhinged at worst, skipping work and demanding a re-do.

We are living in two Americas. Heels are dug in solidly on both sides and nobody is going to move. Politics have become our religion and religion has become our politics. Focus on it too much and too long and it will finish you. Anyone with a Facebook account will tell you this past week has been trying on the soul.

This election cycle boiled us all down to the sum of our labels. Republicans are (fill in the blank). Liberals are (fill in the blank). Feminist. Socialist. Libertarian. Can I be brutally honest? None of them mean anything unless and until we know ourselves through the One who created us. I can not sing “Hail To The Chief” until I first sing in my soul “Hail Jesus You’re My King” and mean it. We will support our leaders but also speak up for injustice as needed. We are not blindly following any party or person. We are first and foremost the Church of the resurrected Christ, both  with a capital “C”.

Christ-follower. That’s the only label I remotely desire at this point.

We are more than a political party, we are a BODY. We are here to elevate truth, to speak it with conviction and love. I’m not afraid to dip my toe in the political waters, but I need to make sure I have first immersed myself in the fountain of LIVING WATER that only Jesus offers.

Church, we need the Truth now more than ever. Regardless of where it lands us on the map of political correctness, people are desperate for it. It may earn us the label of “ally” and it may get us branded as the “enemy”, but please don’t let it hinder your voice. At times it will be lonely, but we are never alone. Let’s not put all our hope into a party or platform or human being… let’s pray for our nation and put our hope in Jesus because the truth is, He has already overcome it all. Woefully lamenting our circumstances and shouting gloom and doom isn’t worthy of our position as believers. It’s never going to be perfect in this world, but we must remember to take heart, because we follow the One who has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

We are strangers in a strange land and it would serve us well to remember that fact. The world is going to ebb and flow as it always has. We serve a God who will never change, and that must be our firm foundation.

“A changeable God would be a terror to the righteous, they would have no sure anchorage, and amid a changing world they would be driven to and fro in perpetual fear of shipwreck… Our heart longs for joy as we bow before One who has never broken His word or changed His purpose.” Charles Spurgeon 

%d bloggers like this: